Last month, Stephen Paddock, a former auditor and real estate businessman, opened fire on a crowd of concert goers at the Route 91 Harvest music festival, leaving 58 people dead and hundreds more injured.
A month later, there was a mass shooting at First Baptist Church in Sunderland Springs – 26 lives were claimed, including one unborn child.
Without going into discussion of gun control laws, it makes one ponder – in the midst of tragedy, is God still in control? If God is in control, why does tragedy happen so freely? How could a God of steadfast love, justice, and righteousness (Jeremiah 9:24) allow these things to happen?
GOD REMAINS SOVEREIGN
The Bible is no stranger to the pain of tragedy – one of the most well-known encounters of tragedy takes place in the book of Job in the Old Testament.
Job, described by the book’s author as a God-fearing man who was blameless and upright (Job 1:1), is introduced as one who is blessed with family and possessions. These, however, quickly get taken away – first his servants, then his livestock, followed by his family. In the end, even his house gets destroyed as it is struck by a great wind (Job 1:13-18).
Despite this, none of these calamities are outside of God’s control – even as Satan afflicts Job in suffering, he is limited by the boundaries that God permits (Job 1:12, 2:6). This, however, is not to say that God directly causes all the suffering we experience – rather, the point we take away is that tragedy does not cause God’s sovereignty to cease.
INJUSTICE THAT LEADS TO VICTORY
Perhaps the greatest illustration of God’s sovereignty in the face of apparent tragedy comes in the form of the death of His only Son – though He committed no sin (1 Peter 2:22), He was mocked by a crowd before being spat on, before being led away to crucifixion (Matthew 27:28-31). This was the worst form of execution in its day – not just due to the excruciating physical pain, but also the stigma of public shame.
Yet, it is through these circumstances that God accomplishes His greatest victory – the death and resurrection of His only Son, through which He redeems mankind by bearing their sin so that they can be in relationship with Him (Romans 4:25). Consequently, mankind is saved from eternal death, into eternal, everlasting life (John 3:16, John 5:24).
In recognising this, we might not have our questions about suffering answered, but one thing is clear – God is no stranger to suffering; He is not indifferent or unattached to suffering. In the midst of suffering, it is inaccurate to say that a God whose only Son was crucified on a Roman cross, doesn’t care.
On the contrary, the message of God’s Word remains unchanged from past to present, and will remain unchanged in the future (Hebrews 13:8) – God’s attributes of love, justice, and righteousness find their fulfilment in Jesus’ death on the cross – who is God’s love manifest (1 John 4:8-10), God’s demonstration of justice (Romans 12:19, 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9) and righteousness (Romans 3:22, 2 Corinthians 5:21).
We might not have our questions about suffering answered, but one thing is clear – God is no stranger to suffering; He is not indifferent or unattached to suffering.
How then do we respond? Knowing God’s sovereignty does not cease in the midst of tragedy does not give as reason to cheapen it – we do this, perhaps inadvertently, when we use sovereignty as a positive spin on an inevitably hopeless outcome.
Instead, we acknowledge that God’s ways are higher than our ways, and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:9). In this light, we seek to display our faith through our actions (Ephesians 2:10, James 2:14).
Hence, we respond by weeping with those who weep (Romans 12:15), as Jesus did with His people when He saw them mourning (John 11:33-35).
We may find ourselves unable to find suitable words to voice our lament – yet even as words fall short, only in weeping and mourning with those affected by tragedy, is the church able step into the pain of the world around us. Only then can we be the body of Christ to this broken world (Ephesians 4:4) .
WILL TRAGEDY EVER CEASE?
It is also significant to note that there will come a day when tragedy ceases, and the promise of being resurrected in an unperishable body fulfilled (1 Corinthians 15:35, 42-47).
Yet it is worth noting that a resurrection without death is a cheap one – on one hand, we are promised resurrection after death for those who believe; on the other hand, this is only possible because Christ has abolished death because He first overcame it (1 Corinthians 15:26, 2 Timothy 1:10).
Jesus has said, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die” (John 11:25). Though we lament the void that death leaves in the aftermath of tragedy, we recognise that the suffering of those who believe in Jesus is temporal until we are united with Him.
Above all, it should renew in us a sense of urgency to persevere in sowing and reaping the seed of the gospel (John 4:36) – so that we may rejoice in knowing that souls are saved from eternal tragedy.